Why aren’t my private messages getting read?

phpBB is excellent forum software, but there are aspects of the way phpBB works that are not intuitive. One of these how it handles private messages, including private message notifications and how it stores and labels private messages.

Sending a private message

In phpBB, you can send a private message to a user from a convenient link on the navigation bar. In this example, the user “tester” is sending me a private message:

Once the submit button is pressed and the screen refreshes, and the just sent private message appears in the user’s outbox:

Receiving a private message

Now let’s look at it from the perspective of the email recipient. Here I login to my board. Notice the private message notification on the navigation bar, which appears unless this notification is turned off:

If I click on the private messages link, I can see the new and unread private message with the red unread private message icon next to it, to distinguish the private message as new:

I can click on it to view the message:

The act of viewing the private message marks it as read. From the sender’s side, this takes it out of their outbox. Now logged in as “tester”, see the difference:

How phpBB handles private messages

All this demonstrates the non-intuitive way that phpBB handles messaging. All private messages are stored in the database. But a “sent” private message is not considered “sent” until it is read by the recipient. Until then, it hangs around in your outbox because, I guess, phpBB does not assume it was actually delivered.

You are probably saying to yourself: “But this makes no sense.” And most people would agree with you. But that’s not how phpBB was designed. When you “send” the private message, a notification may be generated to the recipient. The notification can be an email notification, or just a notification that appears on the navigation bar when the recipient logs in, or both! But phpBB won’t consider it “sent” until it is read — it’s just an item in your outbox! To count it as read, the recipient must login to the forum and read it in the private message interface.

How notifications changed with phpBB 3.1

To make this all the more confusing, the phpBB group changed the way the notifications system works with phpBB 3.1. Previously, the default was to get email notifications when private messages were “sent” to you. Since phpBB 3.1, the default is now not to send an email notification. Instead, when you login in you will see private message notifications on the navigation bar.

If a user wants to get email new private message notifications, they have to reenable this feature. Doing so is not intuitive: User control panel > Board preferences > Edit notification options. See this screenshot for the checkbox that needs to be enabled:

So if this bothers you, you have to let your users know. Perhaps post a global announcement on the forum, or send a mass email to all users telling them how to change this setting. If you got hundreds or thousands of users, you may want to pay me to change this in your database for everyone. If so, send me a service inquiry.

This is just one of these quirks. All software has them, and this is one of those phpBB features that makes a lot of sense to the designers of phpBB, but little sense to the rest of us.


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